In 1993 Alfie Kohn wrote an article titled ‘Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work’. For the time it was a radical piece critisising any attempts of increasing employee productivity via incentive plans. Even now, it is still more on the radical side of management and leadership theory.
Kohn said that “rewards typically undermine the very processes they are intended to enhance” and that they secured, at best, only temporary compliance.
Before getting further into Kohn’s reasoning, it’s worth hitting pause to revisit some motivational basics. Firstly, motivation is classified into two types, intrinsic motivation and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from the self, whereas extrinsic motivation is supplied externally, usually by the manager. There is a large amount of research that shows that the highest performing people are intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation is a form of behaviour modification, whereby a manager will use techniques to motivate the individual to do something that they would otherwise not want to do. It may be that the employee theoretically wants to do the work, but in practice they’d rather take it slower or more relaxed than you’d like. Continue reading